Targeted attacks on energy infrastructure by Russian forces have left Ukrainians without electricity and heat in freezing temperatures at the onset of winter. But that isn’t deterring Anna Orel and her team at The Andreev Foundation, our local partners on the ground who are responding to meet the critical needs of women survivors of sexual violence.
Anna, who spoke with us from her basement after a missile attack struck her neighborhood causing a power outage, told us how these attacks make their work harder. Power cuts mean that group counseling sessions in a hospital or other buildings are proving to be too difficult, so they’ve started to send out ambulances to act as mobile clinics.
Through our partnership, we provide women survivors with medical care including psychological and gynecological consultations with doctors as well as trauma-informed counseling.
Over the past three months, their team of psychologists have had 55 group counseling sessions in areas formerly occupied by the Russians. Of 845 beneficiaries, 50% were children. The Andreev Foundation says that of this number, only 20 survivors of sexual violence have come forward, and eight of these survivors were children.
They believe that the real number of those who have faced sexual violence is much higher, yet women are afraid - afraid that the Russians will come back and occupy the region again and are scared for their lives, but also afraid of gossip and the suspicions of their neighbors.
The Andreev Foundation has conducted a difficult campaign to change attitudes as well as run a crisis hotline for survivors. They explain to women that they are not alone and the importance of talking about what has happened - to survive together.
“It’s hard to find victims of such violence because women who survived through such horrible things, they are very close. And with the help of these group sessions, we can detect such women.”
The Andreev Foundation tells us that they want the world to hear the truth about what is happening to women in Ukraine at the hands of Russian soldiers - so they feel brave enough to come forward to seek help, but also to combat the mass online disinformation. Anna says,
“I don’t want that other victims be silent. All the people in the world, they should know the truth. People in Ukraine, they struggle for their future, for their children.“
Through our Conflict Response Fund (CRF), we've been able to support local nonprofit partners in Ukraine and other active conflict zones to carry out life-changing work for women survivors of war. We developed the CRF as a way for us to still provide a value add, in the midst of an active conflict or the early onset of conflict, to local organizations.
“When I hear about their stories, on one hand it makes me upset but on the other, I’m inspired to walk on because they have shown me the reason - they survived after rape, after torture. They are families, they are children, and they live on.”
Even as Anna sat in darkness after Russian forces targeted her town’s power structures in multiple missile attacks, she still gathers inspiration from the community of women survivors to “walk on.”
“I’m sure that we are now in a very difficult situation, the war in Ukraine,” she says. “And I think people have hopeless stories, many awful stories. But they also have the power to go through the stories and to live on, and I’m sure that among this darkness, our women have light in their hearts.”
At Women for Women International, we find an incredible amount of hope in hearing the experiences of women pushing back and defending their rights and coming together to tackle difficult challenges—and you can play a vital role in supporting these communities of women worldwide.
"Women in this struggle are so brave, and our power is in our unity. I hope we will get our victory together, and by we, I mean the whole world, because the whole world helps and supports us. Thank you, it really matters for us.”
We couldn't agree more.
It is your support that allows us to provide these critical services to survivors like the women of Ukraine, who remain resilient, passionate and committed to reclaiming their power after living through one of the most brutal and unrelenting attacks in the world’s history.
Header Photo Credit: Hakan Erenler